Meet Coco, a 31-year old Oakland native. She has spent the last four years living abroad. First, she spent two years in Dubai. She currently lives in Geneva, Switzerland where she works as a social media manager and freelance marketing consultant. We spoke with her about life as a black expat in Switzerland
Travel Noire: Why did you make the move abroad?
Coco: Initially, I had just planned to backpack through Europe for a month to heal after a bad breakup. But then, I was getting burnt out at work, my MBA program was finishing soon, and the lease on my
apartment was needing to be renewed. All the stars seem to align, so I just decided to quit my job, put
my things in storage, and go on an indefinite adventure. As random as it sounds, on Day 3 of the trip, I
met some execs in a bar in Paris and they offered me a marketing job in Dubai on the spot. I said YOLO
and the rest is history!
TN: How did you end up in Switzerland?
Coco: As cheesy as it sounds, for love. While living in Dubai, I met my boyfriend and we dated long distance for a while; traveling frequently between Dubai and Zug (Switzerland). I made the leap to move to Switzerland to cut the distance and haven’t looked back since. When you find the one, you make it work.
TN: What has life been like as a black woman in Switzerland?
Coco: For me, I’ve both loved and loathed living in Switzerland. My first year we lived in Zug, which is a rather small village in the German speaking region, renowned for being a tax haven for foreign corporations and individuals. It was difficult to say the least. I didn’t speak a word of Swiss German. I found the people to be as cold as the weather. I didn’t have any friends or family besides my boyfriend, and it was a stark contrast to anywhere I had ever lived before. I had never lived in a place where I felt uncomfortable in my beautiful black skin and couldn’t be myself. I would get stared at in the gym (to the point where I just quit going), aggressively bumped into in the grocery store by old Swiss ladies, and deliberately ignored in restaurants and shops. After a few months, I found myself slowly diving into depression. Luckily, my boyfriend was super supportive and we moved to Geneva.
Now living in Geneva, I have found my true love of Switzerland. It’s a much more international city, larger and livelier, people are friendlier, and actually open to friendships and getting to know me. I have a diverse group of friends, including some Black Americans. I speak the language now and have had a much more positive experience than in Zug.
TN: How does you quality of life compare in Switzerland versus back home?
Coco: That’s a tough one. On one hand, it’s extremely expensive here, but the salaries are high as well, so it’s comparable. The food products (fruits, vegetables, meats) are fresher and chemical-free, the education system is top notch, healthcare is decent, and the landscapes are something out of a dream. When I lived in Zug, I could go DAYS without seeing another black person and that was more emotionally draining than I could have anticipated.
TN: What challenges have you faced as an expat in Switzerland?
Coco: In Switzerland, what counts most is the degree to which someone integrates and assimilates. If you’re polite, follow the rules, pay your taxes, learn the language, and respect their culture and traditions, you won’t have any issues. For example, if you’re black, but you speak the local dialect perfectly, you will be fully accepted by nearly everyone. So, learning one of their 3 national languages (Swiss German, French and Italian) was my hardest challenge.
Also, as a U.S passport holder, I am considered a “third-party national” which makes finding a job really
hard. Swiss law states that Swiss nationals and EU nationals have priority in hiring and if ALL attempts to
fill the role fail, only then can a third party national be hired. I just recently got hired after looking and applying for a year.
TN: Do you have any advice for our readers looking to move abroad?
Coco: Learn multiple languages. It will save you time, money, energy, and headaches to be fluent in the local language (or a few others) when looking for housing, negotiating terms, navigating everyday life, and finding new friends. Also, understand that sometimes you have to be extremely uncomfortable to find your true strength and limits.